Ranking the Top 10 College Basketball Programs by Their Current NBA Talent

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2017

Ranking the Top 10 College Basketball Programs by Their Current NBA Talent

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    Cutting down the nets is overrated.*

    This is the title every collegiate basketball program really wants.**

    Throughout the 2016-17 season, players from 117 different colleges have suited up at the sport's highest level. The NBA has featured players from blue-blood schools such as Kentucky and Duke, but it's also seen representatives from Blinn College (Chris Andersen), Georgia State (R.J. Hunter), Eastern Washington (Rodney Stuckey) and Bucknell (Mike Muscala).

    Seventy-eight different institutions of higher learning have produced at least a pair of NBA players, and 25 have spawned no fewer than a literal handful. 

    To see how they stack up, we're looking at two different factors: 

    1. The number of players who finished their amateur careers with the college in question.
    2. The cumulative score in NBA Math's total points added for every player from the college in question, excluding those who finished with negative scores. Because making it into the NBA is tough enough, we don't want to discount the young players (Brandon Ingram, for example) who are adding below-average value while thrust into roles they can't possibly fill at this stage of their careers. 

    Each of the 117 candidates was given a score in both categories, such that one point represented a first-place finish and a last-place finisher received 117. Add them together, and you have talent score, with a score of two serving as perfection. 

    *It's not.

    **It isn't.

Honorable Mentions

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    Connecticut Huskies

    Though Connecticut has produced five current NBA players (tied for 18th most), it only has one true standout pushing it up the ranks. Kemba Walker was a deserving All-Star for the Charlotte Hornets, and he's doing nearly all the heavy lifting for his alma mater. 

    Perhaps the Huskies would've fared better if Rudy Gay had avoided injury and Andre Drummond had shown at least some growth for the Detroit Pistons. But with Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb as the school's only other products, it likely wouldn't have been enough to push Connecticut into the top 10. 

    Georgetown Hoyas

    Though Georgetown has five players on the Association's 30 rosters in 2016-17, only two of them have been above-average contributors. Otto Porter continues to thrive as a spot-up sniper and all-around player for the Washington Wizards, while Greg Monroe has improved defensively to become a legitimate two-way asset off the Milwaukee Bucks bench. 

    However, the rest of the former Hoyas aren't helping them out. Jeff Green, Hollis Thompson and Roy Hibbert may know the same fight song, but none of them have been able to negate their weaknesses during the current campaign. 

    North Carolina Tar Heels

    Just the Kansas Jayhawks, Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats have more players in the NBA than the North Carolina Tar Heels, who boast a staggering 14 representatives. But that only matters so much when Danny Green and Vince Carter are the only men with above-average TPAs, per NBA Math

    Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Raymond Felton, John Henson, Brice Johnson, Ty Lawson, James Michael McAdoo, Marvin Williams, Brandan Wright and Tyler Zeller all have sub-zero scores—some more negative than others—and that forces North Carolina to drag its heels while attempting to move up the rankings. 

    Ohio State Buckeyes

    Mike Conley? He's a stud. But he's also the only above-average player from Ohio State, since D'Angelo Russell, Jared Sullinger, Kosta Koufos and Evan Turner have all posted negative scores in 2016-17. 

    Fortunately for the Buckeyes, that could change in the near future. Russell has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his sophomore season, constantly growing on the offensive end. As soon as he joins Conley in the green, Ohio State will have a chance to move out of the honorable mentions. 

    Villanova Wildcats

    No school came closer to breaking out of the honorable mentions. Villanova finished tied with the No. 10 talent-producer in this countdown but lost the tiebreaker by virtue of having 10 fewer NBA players. 

    Kyle Lowry is the only former Wildcat with a positive TPA. But that's not as problematic as being joined by only Daniel Ochefu, Dante Cunningham, Darrun Hilliard and Randy Foye. Villanova hasn't produced nearly as many talents as the schools it's chasing. 

    Next Five: Arizona Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Stanford Cardinal, USC Trojans, Texas A&M Aggies

10. Kansas Jayhawks, 28 Talent Score

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    Count: 15 (No. 3)

    Total Positive TPA: 98.73 (No. 25)

    Positive Players: Joel Embiid (54.84), Marcus Morris (20.06), Cole Aldrich (15.26), Jeff Withey (8.57)

    Negative Players: Darrell Arthur (minus-5.31), Nick Collison (minus-6.45), Thomas Robinson (minus-8.04), Cheick Diallo (minus-9.21), Paul Pierce (minus-16.26), Brandon Rush (minus-21.48), Markieff Morris (minus-22.93), Tarik Black (minus-28.86), Kelly Oubre (minus-64.49), Ben McLemore (minus-83.48), Andrew Wiggins (minus-90.82)

    The Kansas Jayhawks have no issue producing NBA players in volume. Fifteen have lined up in 2016-17 alone, which leaves them trailing only the Duke Blue Devils (21) and Kentucky Wildcats (24). 

    But the quality of the players is somewhat lacking, which leaves Kansas in need of a tiebreaker to move past Villanova and into the ranked section.

    Despite the plethora of players drafted in the lottery, few are currently experiencing success. It's troubling that Joel Embiid emerged as the overall leader during his rookie season, even though he played in only 31 games before he was shut down for the season by the Philadelphia 76ers. Granted, this might have been different while Paul Pierce was in his prime instead of rarely suiting up for the Los Angeles Clippers, but we're talking about current talent. 

    Maybe Andrew Wiggins will eventually develop on defense and his point-preventing woes won't negate his offensive prowess. Perhaps Ben McLemore will find a new home this offseason and finally justify the predraft expectations he earned. There's a chance Kelly Oubre could break out for the Washington Wizards with more minutes. 

    But right now, disappointing careers reign supreme for the Jayhawks, even if volume gets them into the top 10. 

9. Washington Huskies, 26 Talent Score

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    Count: Seven (No. 12)

    Total Positive TPA: 227.49 (No. 14)

    Positive Players: Isaiah Thomas (223.46), Terrence Ross (2.73), Spencer Hawes (1.3)

    Negative Players: C.J. Wilcox (minus-11.26), Justin Holiday (minus-26.98), Dejounte Murray (minus-29.77), Marquese Chriss (minus-45.83)

    "His prowess and comfort level in the pick-and-roll combined with his outstanding speed off the dribble give him a definite chance to make a living in the NBA, especially if he continues to play at the level he has recently," Joseph Treutlein wrote for DraftExpress midway through Isaiah Thomas' junior season at Washington. 

    Thomas would go on to become Mr. Irrelevant when the Sacramento Kings used the final pick of the 2011 NBA draft to secure his services. Now, he's very much relevant, helping steer the Boston Celtics toward the top of the Eastern Conference while making the fourth quarter his own personal plaything. 

    Unfortunately, he's not getting much help here. 

    Terrence Ross has steadily improved, to the point that he's now an underrated two-way commodity for the Orlando Magic after he and a first-round pick were shipped away from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Serge Ibaka. Spencer Hawes can make an offensive impact when he plays.

    But until the other young former Huskies improve, the school won't move up the pack.

    Dejounte Murray could easily explode for the San Antonio Spurs next season (never doubt the draft decisions made by that organization), and Marquese Chriss has already displayed flashes of raw upside for the Phoenix Suns. They haven't done enough to finish any higher than No. 9, but that could easily change in the near future. 

8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 23 Talent Score

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    Count: Five (No. 18)

    Total Positive TPA: 410.73 (No. 5)

    Positive Players: Chris Paul (229.09), Jeff Teague (93.41), James Johnson (88.23)

    Negative Players: Ish Smith (minus-28.43), Al-Farouq Aminu (minus-31.35)

    If a player is moving up the draft boards with Wake Forest attached to his resume, the NBA might want to take notice. Those players don't come around too frequently, but they tend to turn into special contributors at the professional level. 

    Right now, only five former Demon Deacons grace the Association—it was six last season before Tim Duncan hung up his sneakers and started preparing for his eventual Hall of Fame induction. But each member of the quintet has been valuable in 2016-17. 

    Chris Paul remains one of the league's best point guards (and overall players), while Jeff Teague has quietly thrived for the Indiana Pacers. James Johnson has broken out in South Beach now that head coach Erik Spoelstra has allowed him to show off the full extent of his versatility, while both Ish Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu have filled key roles for their respective squads. 

    The volume isn't there—at least, not to the extent you'll see from other schools in this countdown. But if they make it to the league, Wake Forest players rarely turn into NBA busts. 

    Here's looking at you, John Collins.

7. Michigan State Spartans, 21 Talent Score

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    Count: Eight (No. 9)

    Total Positive TPA: 255.53 (No. 12)

    Positive Players: Draymond Green (239.77), Gary Harris (15.76)

    Negative Players: Adreian Payne (minus-4.89), Bryn Forbes (minus-10.1), Deyonta Davis (minus-13.63), Zach Randolph (minus-26.1), Alan Anderson (minus-29.58), Denzel Valentine (minus-30.35)

    If it weren't for Draymond Green, the Michigan State Spartans wouldn't have much to show for their troubles. 

    Gary Harris has developed into a solid wing for the Denver Nuggets, but he's the only other Tom Izzo tutee making a positive overall impact. The rest are veterans filling bench roles with slightly below-average play (Zach Randolph and Alan Anderson), former prospects gone sour (Adreian Payne) and youngsters with chances to grow into bigger minutes (Bryn Forbes, Deyonta Davis and Denzel Valentine). 

    But at least Green counts. 

    The four-year Spartan enjoyed a fantastic career while wearing green and white, but his body type and lack of marketable offensive skill dropped him to No. 35 in the 2012 NBA draft. The Golden State Warriors snatched him up, and it wasn't until head coach Steve Kerr realized the full breadth of his skill set that he truly broke out into the Defensive Player of the Year candidate and all-around stud he is today. 

    Green's individual prowess alone—he's No. 12 in TPA—pushes the Spartans into impressive positioning. And if even one of the young prospects can join he and Harris on the positive side of the ledger, Michigan State stands a good chance of moving into the top six. 

6. Marquette Golden Eagles, 20 Talent Score

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    Count: Six (No. 14)

    Total Positive TPA: 407.22 (No. 6)

    Positive Players: Jimmy Butler (260.42), Jae Crowder (65.45), Dwyane Wade (54.48), Wesley Matthews (26.87)

    Negative Players: Steve Novak (minus-5.9), Henry Ellenson (minus-8.43)

    If you're searching for a solid wing player, perhaps you should look in Marquette's general direction. 

    Jimmy Butler has performed like a bona fide superstar for the shooting-starved Chicago Bulls, thriving on defense and creating his own shots with aplomb. Few have been able to match his two-way output, and he somehow seems to get better when games grow more competitive. But while he's the clear-cut standout from the Golden Eagles, it's not like he's the only plus. 

    Jae Crowder has served as such for the Boston Celtics, even if his defensive numbers are depressed by covering up for Isaiah Thomas' porosity and Avery Bradley's injuries. Then there's Dwyane Wade, who just keeps producing during the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. And we can't forget about Wesley Matthews, who is starting to return to his three-and-D status of yesteryears. 

    At this point, it's safe to rule out the possibility of Steve Novak doing much in support of his alma mater. But Henry Ellenson hasn't received many opportunities during his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons, and his stretch 4 tendencies should eventually play well. 

    Then again, Ellenson isn't a wing. So who really knows? 

5. Florida Gators, 15 Talent Score

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    Count: 10 (No. 8)

    Total Positive TPA: 306.8 (No. 7)

    Positive Players: Bradley Beal (88.03), Al Horford (82.24), David Lee (71.67), Joakim Noah (44.9), Marreese Speights (19.96)

    Negative Players: Mike Miler (minus-6.93), Udonis Haslem (minus-8.44), Dorian Finney-Smith (minus-19.37), Chandler Parsons (minus-53.62), Corey Brewer (minus-60.7)

    It remains to be seen whether current head coach Mike White can churn out NBA-caliber talent like Billy Donovan did before he left the Florida Gators for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015. Of the 10 Florida products working at the sport's highest level, all but Dorian Finney-Smith spent their entire Gainesville tenures working under Donovan. 

    And even Finney-Smith shouldn't count as a true exception. 

    Before blessing the Dallas Mavericks with his impressive frontcourt defense during his rookie season—after going undrafted and signing as a free agent, no less—the power forward spent three years with the Gators. Only the final season came under White's supervision, and it was Donovan who originally convinced him to transfer away from Virginia Tech after his freshman campaign. 

    Eventually, White will have to prove himself.

    Improvement from Bradley Beal and Finney-Smith can't cancel out the inevitable age-related regression from the other former Gators. It'll be up to players such as Devin Robinson to take up the torch, and that's far from a guarantee. 

4. Duke Blue Devils, 13 Talent Score

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    Count: 21 (No. 2)

    Total Positive TPA: 265.44 (No. 11)

    Positive Players: Kyrie Irving (102.92), Mason Plumlee (91.2), Seth Curry (64.26), Jabari Parker (6.86), Ryan Kelly (0.2)

    Negative Players: Marshall Plumlee (minus-2.73), Quinn Cook (minus-11.94), Rodney Hood (minus-16.79), Josh McRoberts (minus-17.38), Tyus Jones (minus-19.79), J.J. Redick (minus-27.03), Miles Plumlee (minus-27.75), Mike Dunleavy (minus-32.66), Justise Winslow (minus-33.47), Kyle Singler (minus-43.11), Austin Rivers (minus-43.9), Lance Thomas (minus-59.2), Jahlil Okafor (minus-70.67), Luol Deng (minus-73.11), Gerald Henderson (minus-73.36), Brandon Ingram (minus-168.32)

    There's no doubt the Duke Blue Devils churn out plenty of high-quality players. 

    Kyrie Irving is an unabashed superstar who has often carried the Cleveland Cavaliers' scoring load. Mason Plumlee became one of the league's more underrated centers during his time with the Portland Trail Blazers, and he's now bringing his versatility and interior defense to the Denver Nuggets. Seth Curry has enjoyed a breakout season for the Dallas Mavericks, to the point that he should be paid like a star as soon as possible, and Jabari Parker was a Most Improved Player candidate before tearing his ACL. 

    But head coach Mike Krzyzewski also benefits from the prestige of his program. Duke players get NBA chances in part because they're from Duke, and plenty of them fail to pan out at a high level. 

    Ryan Kelly, Marshall Plumlee, Quinn Cook and Kyle Singler all fill spots at the end of their teams' rotations. Austin Rivers, Tyus Jones and Lance Thomas haven't proved they're anything more than midlevel role players. Brandon Ingram and Jahlil Okafor have been two of the league's least valuable players, though there's obviously plenty of time for them to turn their careers around (more so for the former).

    We're only counting positive TPA in this analysis to give credit to schools for getting plenty of players into the league. That, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment. 

    But if we took negative TPA into account, Duke wouldn't sit in the top 10 of these rankings. No school's cumulative score sees less value added. 

3. Texas Longhorns, 12 Talent Score

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    Count: Eight (No. 9)

    Total Positive TPA: 532.08 (No. 3)

    Positive Players: Kevin Durant (327.5), Myles Turner (83.5), Tristan Thompson (59.31), P.J. Tucker (33.06), LaMarcus Aldridge (28.71)

    Negative Players: Avery Bradley (minus-2.64), Cory Joseph (minus-42.84), D.J. Augustin (minus-77.56)

    The Texas Longhorns are well-represented here, and their case for superiority should only grow stronger in the near future. 

    First, it's worth mentioning that Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones should be added to the list before too long. Though the latter isn't drawing as much draft hype, the former is a projected top-20 pick in 2018, per DraftExpress

    But even without new additions, the Longhorns' ranks are impressive. Kevin Durant, when he's not fighting off injuries, remains one of the NBA's five best players, while Myles Turner and Tristan Thompson are clawing their way up frontcourt leaderboards. Throw in continued excellence from LaMarcus Aldridge, defensive tenacity from P.J. Tucker and all-around play from Avery Bradley (when he's at full strength), and you have quite the impressive lineup. 

    Also working in Texas' favor is its ability to consistently produce talent, even though it often loses recruits to college basketball's true blue bloods. The players listed above don't all come from one class; instead, they're spread out over the years, such that plenty of different ages and drafts are represented by the burnt orange.

2. UCLA Bruins, 6 Talent Score

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    Count: 14 (No. 4)

    Total Positive TPA: 868.27 (No. 2)

    Positive Players: Russell Westbrook (641.21), Trevor Ariza (80.74), Jrue Holiday (64.35), Kevin Love (35.41), Kyle Anderson (19.16), Luc Mbah a Moute (16.4), Kevon Looney (11.0), Zach LaVine (0.0)

    Negative Players: Jordan Farmar (minus-2.21), Matt Barnes (minus-27.58), Norman Powell (minus-28.6), Darren Collison (minus-46.25), Shabazz Muhammad (minus-84.26), Arron Afflalo (minus-93.48)

    There's no disrespect meant to the Texas Longhorns, Duke Blue Devils and Florida Gators. But if we're grading on a curve, their level of NBA talent is so far behind the top two teams that they'll have trouble earning anything more than a "B" or "B+."

    UCLA's sheer number of NBA players is impressive enough. Only three schools have placed more of their former contributors in the league—Kansas (15), Duke (21) and Kentucky (24). North Carolina is tied at 14, while Arizona (12), Syracuse (11) and Florida (10) join those institutions in double figures.

    But the quality of the ex-Bruins pushes them ahead of the pack.

    Russell Westbrook (shocker) leads the charge during his campaign to both win MVP and become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. Throughout the NBA, no one even comes close to matching his individual TPA score.

    But the rest of UCLA's positives are no slouches.

    Trevor Ariza, Kevin Love and Kyle Anderson fill key roles for legitimate contenders. Jrue Holiday has resumed play as a top-tier point guard now that he's fully recovered from prior injury woes. Zach LaVine was in the midst of a breakout before tearing his ACL. Even the negatives retain some value, as Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Shabazz Muhammad and Norman Powell have all served—at times—as useful pieces in 2016-17.  

    But try as they might, they still can't touch our No. 1 producer of talent. 

1. Kentucky Wildcats, 2 Talent Score

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    Count: 24 (No. 1)

    Total Positive TPA: 1072.84 (No. 1)

    Positive Players: DeMarcus Cousins (287.89), Karl-Anthony Towns (219.61), John Wall (175.16), Anthony Davis (166.49), Eric Bledsoe (162.11), Nerlens Noel (45.98), Patrick Patterson (11.99), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (3.61)

    Negative Players: Archie Goodwin (minus-1.04), Aaron Harrison (minus-3.87), Skal Labissiere (minus-4.49), Jodie Meeks (minus-6.25), James Young (minus-11.21), Julius Randle (minus-12.83), DeAndre Liggins (minus-20.59), Rajon Rondo (minus-21.85), Willie Cauley-Stein (minus-31.89), Terrence Jones (minus-36.13), Tyler Ulis (minus-39.7), Trey Lyles (minus-47.41), Andrew Harrison (minus-49.79), Jamal Murray (minus-79.04), Brandon Knight (minus-104.09), Devin Booker (minus-124.04)

    "My goal before I retire is 12 guys in the All-Star Game," John Calipari told Bleacher Report's Reid Forgrave earlier this season. 

    Had anyone else made such a claim, laughter may have ensued. But not when we're talking about the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, who has churned out elite prospect after elite prospect during his time in Lexington (and with Memphis before that). 

    Right now, you could build a starting five comprised solely of Kentucky products, and it could compete with anyone. Seriously, what team could handle John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns working together in a jumbo lineup? What happens when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Patrick Patterson, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle and Devin Booker are waiting to come off the bench? 

    Even though some Wildcats have turned into substandard players—here's looking at you, Rajon Rondo, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, among others—there are enough stars and rotation members to wipe the floor with any other school. 

    Oh, and the ranks will only swell further this summer. DraftExpress' latest mock draft has De'Aaron Fox (No. 8), Malik Monk (No. 9), Bam Adebayo (No. 27) and Isaiah Briscoe (No. 60) all coming off the board.

    If there's a gap between UCLA and Texas, there's a veritable chasm between Kentucky and everyone else. 

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball-Reference.comNBA.com or NBA Math and accurate heading into games Tuesday, March 7.


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